New data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University shows an increasing number of immigration court cases getting dismissed because required paperwork is not being filed.
Both immigration attorneys and advocates say this is just a symptom of a system plagued by a growing backlog of cases and shifting priorities.
According to Customs and Border Protection, more than 1.7 million people have been caught crossing the southern border or deemed inadmissible to the United States this fiscal year. The federal government cannot detain everyone caught crossing the border until their case is decided in immigration court. Those not considered a threat are then released into the US with Notices to Appear in immigration court at a later date.
TRAC data shows in 2018, 0.3% of completed cases were dismissed because NTA was not filed, but in 2022, that number grew to 16.6%. TRAC data shows out of 284, 446 cases completed between October and June, approximately 47,330 cases, were dismissed due to a lack of an NTA.
“It’s chaos right now,” said Houston immigration attorney, Raed Gonzalez.
Beyond cases being dismissed due to a lack of paperwork, Gonzalez said he sees a lack of consistency in how the federal government is handling the more than 1.8 million cases backlogged in immigration court.
“One day they want to dismiss the case because it’s not a priority. On another day, they say, ‘I do not have instructions. I cannot do that anymore,’” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez said cases dismissed because an NTA isn’t filed can be refiled, but until that happens, immigrants involved in those cases live in a state of limbo. Gonzalez is the attorney who successfully argued before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals an immigrant cannot be deported in absentia without a proper NTA being filed.
“It’s kind of hit or miss still,” said Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL.
Espinosa adds shifting priorities is far from a recent problem and he believes it’s part of the reason for the backlog in immigration court.
“At the end of the day, this is not something new to the Biden administration, we have seen it for some time now and until we reform the system, we won’t see any change for the better or for the worse,” said Espinosa.
In September, President Biden’s administration announced it only wanted to focus on cases involving immigrants who pose a threat to public safety, national security and those recently caught crossing the border. A federal court judge struck down that policy after it was challenged by states like Texas and Louisiana. The US Supreme Court is expected to take the issue this fall.
KPRC 2 reached out to the Department of Homeland Security regarding TRAC’s recent report on NTAs, but has not yet received a response.